We seem to see more and more people who want to ditch their glasses and wear contact lenses. Most patients are candidates for some type of contact lens. But there can be great risk with wearing this medical device on your eyes. Here are a few precautions for contact lens wearers.
Sleeping in your contacts
Although some professionals and contact manufacturers say that it’s okay to sleep in certain types of lenses, I tend to advise against it. Continuous wear contact lenses were all the rage when I started practicing 14 years ago. Your cornea, the outside layer of your eye that the contact covers, needs oxygen. Wearing contacts deprives the eye of that oxygen, and sleeping in your lenses exacerbates the problem. In many patients, overnight wear will likely cause irritation and discomfort. At worst, it could lead to a serious infection. This being said, plenty of patients sleep in contact lenses for extended periods with little or no trouble.
Swimming in your contacts
It might seem like no big deal, but swimming and even showering with your contacts may not be the best idea. Most water sources – including lakes, pools, hot tubs, and bathroom sinks – contain the microorganism Acanthamoeba. If it finds its way into your eyes, acanthamoeba can cause an extremely painful infection and potentially even lead to blindness. The treatment is long and difficult.
Contact lens wearers are at greater risk for a number of reasons. The acanthamoeba is particularly attracted to the contact lens: Contacts cause minor scratches on the cornea, which make it more vulnerable to bacteria and microorganisms of all kinds. In addition, any bacteria living on the surface of the contact serve as a food source for the acanthamoeba, allowing it to survive in your eye. Again, plenty of patients swim in the pool or lake with contacts nd never have a day’s worth of trouble, but it is a risk.
Using plain water to clean your lenses
Even riskier than swimming while wearing contacts is storing your lenses in tap water. Even though tap water is pure enough to drink, it’s not sterile. Acanthamoeba also lives in tap water, so soaking lenses in water from the sink is an invitation to infection. Instead, you should always store them in solution.
It’s also important to wash your hands before putting your lenses in and taking them out – and never leave old solution from the day before in the case (use all new solution, don’t just top it off). Rub and rinse the contacts with solution after each use. Most contact lenses issues can occur by using dirty solution. Think of it this way- Would you wash your favorite coffee cup in a pan soaking in the sink?
Using a case for too long
I usually recommend cleaning your lens case thoroughly with solution every day, and replacing the case every other month. (The American Optometric Association advises replacing it at least every three months.)
An old case is a set up for germs growing on the case and on the lens. Besides the general griminess of a six-month-old contact case that you can probably see, invisible germs and bacteria are likely living there, too.
And keeping contacts and their cases clean and bacteria-free reduces vulnerability to all types of infection. A 2012 study in the journal Ophthalmology showed that the risk of eye infection was 6.4 times greater in those who didn’t properly clean their contact cases and 5.4 times greater in those who didn’t replace their cases frequently enough.
Wearing your contacts way past the designed time
Most people will admit that they keep their lenses longer than the recommended period. It pretty much happens every day. This is a similar hazard to a worn-out case: Old lenses become coated with germs and the build-up of solution, proteins, and other residues. This will make the lenses uncomfortable and can lead to infection. Contact lens overwear is the single most common thing a patient will do that can lead to problems.
Let me conclude by saying that plenty of our patients might do some or all of these things and never have a problem. I have found that some people are just less prone to problems in contact lens wear. But to make sure your eyes are safe and healthy, I advise you to follow these precautions.